What is meant by the word "namesake" in "The Namesake"?

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In Jhumpa Lahiri's book, the word "namesake" references the human search for meaning. The word essentially encompasses Gogol/ Nikhil's struggle for identity.

The story begins with an explanation of how Gogol came by his name. Accordingly, Gogol's father, Ashoke, had been reading a collection of short stories by Nikolai Gogol when his train derailed from the lines. It was a tragic accident and one that left few survivors. Ashoke had found himself lodged partway through a window, and he had little ability to move. Fortuitously, he was still clutching a page from Gogol's story "The Overcoat." First responders noticed that he was alive when he dropped the page from his hands. Ashoke credits Gogol for saving his life that day.

When his son was born, Ashoke named him after the Russian author, due to the lack of a Bengali "good name" or bhalonam. Traditionally, all Bengalis give their children pet names or daknam, and they are usually sentimental or affectionate in nature. Pet names remind everyone that "one is not all things to all people." Conversely, good names signify prestige and respectability. Because of the importance of good names, Bengalis usually take their time to name their children.

Often, a respected patriarch or matriarch of the family is called upon to name the newborn. In Ashoke's case, his wife's grandmother had been given this privilege. However, the naming convention hits a snag when the letter from Ashima's grandmother fails to arrive in time. Mr. Wilcox, the compiler of hospital birth certificates, warns Ashoke and his wife, Ashima, that the baby will not be allowed to leave without a formal name on his birth certificate.

Cornered, Ashoke names his son Gogol. Ashoke's rational for his son's name stems from his predilection for absurdist fiction and philosophy. Absurdist fiction for its part deals with the irrational; it questions the relevance and existence of abstract principles such as truth and justice. The philosophy of absurdism rests on the hypothesis that life is devoid of meaning and that God (if He exists at all) is largely a detached, reclusive figure.

In the story, Ashoke knows that he was fortunate to survive the devastating train crash. He credits Gogol for saving his life, noting that his Marxist beliefs do not give him the liberty of crediting a divine being for his miraculous recovery. So, the word "namesake" in the novel represents a few things.

First, it represents Lahiri's acknowledgement of Gogol's absurdist philosophy. Ashoke finds little evidence to suggest that he was chosen to live. All he knows is that he survived a horrific accident against all odds. The word "namesake" is a metaphor that approaches the problem of fate from...

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